nScreenMedia OTT multiscreen media analysis

Flingo aims for ad dollars by putting the smart back in smart TVs

Ashwin Navin

Ashwin Navin
In my recent conversation with Flingo founder and CEO Ashwin Navin I heard something quite unexpected. When asked to describe Flingo, he said it is an “interactive TV” company. Having worked in interactive television for 10 years starting in the late 90s I had thought the expression was forever tarnished by the constant efforts to sell pizza with a remote control. What Ashwin told me about Flingo definitely separates it from those early efforts at interactivity. However, one thing remains the same: it’s still all about advertising. Flingo was formed 4 years ago to focus on the emerging smart TV market. This has led to a steady business building smart TV apps for other companies such as Fox broadcasting and Popular Science running on Samsung, LG and Vizio smart TVs. This gave the company a deep understanding of the smart TV platforms, and of some of their shortcomings. One particular problem I’ve been highlighting for several years now is that there is no way for an app running on the TV to know what a viewer is currently watching.  This shortcoming is a fatal flaw if your objective is to enhance the TV and, as importantly, the advertising experience.Ashwin and his team set out to correct this shortcoming. What they have done is create a platform for automatic content recognition (ACR) that allows any application or second screen app to know what’s happening on the big screen.Unlike other ACR methods that use audio recognition to figure out what a viewer is watching, Flingo uses video recognition. The company has setup two datacenters, on the East and West coasts of the U.S., to handle the processing of the TV channels so that the shows can be “fingerprinted” for recognition. There are 20-30 cable STBs at each location, each tuned to a different TV channel. The video and audio of each channel is ingested into servers that create a unique identifier, or fingerprint, for each moment in the video.

When a viewer starts watching a show on a Flingo-enabled TV, the Flingo client calls out to the datacenter to recognize and synchronize with the TV show being watched. The synchronization process takes less than 3 seconds and works for both live broadcast TV and shows watched on-demand.

An app running on an iPad can now connected to the TV over the homes Wi-Fi and immediately begins to receive synchronized updates from the Flingo datacenter containing bonus show material. What sort of things can happen when the iPad app is synched with a show? Flingo is well known for making TV more of a social experience. Using the ACR platform, a viewer can post a quote from the show directly to their Facebook page without the show creator doing anything to enable it.

However, Ashwin knows it is tough to monetize social platforms. A much better approach is through advertising. The same ACR mechanism can also be used to enhance a TV ad. That, of course, is the big win – for advertisers, content providers and Flingo. These synchronized second screen ads are new opportunities to reinforce an ad message and enhance the engagement with the viewer. According to Ashwin, this is the real future of the company. Bringing together advertising sellers and buyers for these new ad opportunities will be the major revenue driver for the company in the future.

There are some challenges for Flingo to overcome before that happens. The company’s ACR platform is currently supported on Sanyo, Hisense, Insignia and Haier smart TVs. To be really successful, however, companies like Samsung and Vizio need to sign on with Flingo to give true scale for the ads. As well, since consumers generally keep TVs for 6-8 years, it could take quite a while for a lot of Flingo-enabled TVs to be available in consumer homes.

Another challenge for the company is defining what the standards are for the new synchronized ads. Ashwin says they are already busy working with the ad industry to “productize” these new ad units but, again, this could take quite a while.

Ashwin is well aware that the course Flingo is set upon will require a long time to come to maturity. He has ensured the company is well funded, receiving $9m in venture funding last February, and that it will continue earning good revenue building smart TV apps. At least for the time being, the company seems well positioned to stay the course.

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